Learned it from my late (100 % Hungarian) grandma.

You don’t want my life story. But you do want to know which kind of meat to use, right? Bear with me.

Gulyásleves is actually more of a soup than a stew. The stew itself is called pörkölt and must consist of beef, onions, paprika, grease, and seasonings and maybe a tomato or two.

The meat for a proper pörkölt is often cheap beef stew meat, the kind you simmer for hours and hours until it becomes nearly chewable. Not grandma. She always used „Nuß“, a part of the “head of the quadriceps” muscle, musculus rectus femoris. It’s labelled „Zapfen“ in the image; just print the pretty picture and tell your butcher you want the part ringed in red. This is what the simmer time of 1.5 hours is calculated for.

Beefiness

What you need

For four really hungry people or eight normal eaters; more if you serve sides:

  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) beef, cubed to 15 mm (½”–¾”) a side. Use good stew meat, see above. Before cubing, strip the silvery-white sheath if present.
  • 1 kg white or yellow onions (same quantity as beef)
  • 1 large tomato; or 2 medium ones; or canned tomatoes or tomato paste (gross!)
  • 8 Tbsp paprika powder (sweet, and more helps more)
  • 1.5 tsp paprika powder (spicy hot)
  • abt. 150–200 g (5–7 oz.) pork lard (traditional); or clarified butter; or peanut or canola oils (meh) with a pat of butter for taste
  • Salt
  • Water

Preparation is easy. Try not to fuck it up:

  1. Chop the onions.
  2. In a large sauce pan, heat the fat and add the onions.
  3. Stir on medium heat until the onions are transparent. Brown onions are bitter; discard and start over.
  4. Extinguish with 2 or 3 Tbsp water.
  5. Add both paprika powders and allow the mixture to come to a boil
  6. Extinguish with another 2–3 Tbsp water.
  7. Remove and reserve most of the onions so that the beef can braise well.
  8. Add the cubed beef and heat while stirring until the pores of the meat close; the surface will be grey-ish.
  9. Add the reserved onions back in when the meat is braised.
  10. Add the peeled and diced tomatoes and a good dose of salt.
  11. Add water until the meat is covered. If you need more than a pint or so per lb. of meat, use a smaller pot and reduce the sauce after cooking.
  12. Allow to simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring very occasionally. The result should be a watery sauce with delicious, tender meat cubes and discernible onion pieces.
  13. Season to taste with more salt. If you want it spicier, add hot paprika; note that Hungarian cuisine is not fiery-hot.

The above is what is known in Vienna as „Saftgulasch“ (“sauce-goulash”). Its distinguishing characteristic is that the sauce is bound only by the gelatin extracted from the meat during cooking, by the onion solids, and by reducing the stew to the desired consistency.

Traditionally, this dish is served with only dark rye bread on the side, but white bread will work, too, or rice, or Hungarian Tarhonya.

Variations on a common theme

Rindsgulasch, beef goulash. Do not braise the beef in the onions. Instead, while the onions are cooking, cover the meat cubes in flour and sauté them in a separate pan. Then, add them to the onions and continue.

Zigeunergulasch, gypsy goulash. Like Rindsgulasch in that the meat is floured and pan-browned. Uses beef, lamb, or pork, or any mix of these. Later in the cooking, add diced potatoes, diced green bell peppers, and diced tomato (in addition to the tomato you already used).

Esterházygulasch. Named after the blue-blood Esterházy family. Prepare a Rindsgulasch, bind with sour cream, add a julienne of yellow beets, carrots, and celery root; refine with more sour cream, and serve with Salzkartoffeln (salt potatoes: put raw peeled potatoes in heavily salted cold water, bring to boil, simmer for ~20 minutes until done, pour off water, let stand for two minutes, add chopped dill or chopped flat parsley if desired).

Karlsbader Gulasch. So named after the spa resort for the rich in the old Austrian monarchy. Prepare a basic goulash; stir some flour into cold water (no clumping, please!), add sour cream generously, stir into the goulash. Serve with Nockerln (Italian potato gnocchi will do in a pinch).

Kaisergulasch, Emperor goulash. Use beef tenderloin and adjust cooking time. Serve with “lard-noodles” („abgeschmalzene Nudeln“): cook egg noodles, like German-style „Spätzle“ or what you find at the Asian grocery, until soft. Meanwhile, finely chop an onion and fry it in lard until transparent, then continue frying until it is yellow. Pour over the pasta and serve. Alternative: instead of lard, render diced bacon and use that to fry the chopped onion. Yum!

Bauerngulasch, peasant’s goulash. Rindsgulasch as above, garnished with small Semmelknödel (I have a recipe for that, too).

Fiakergulasch, coachman’s goulash, Herrengulasch, gentleman’s goulash. Rindsgulasch garnished with a pan-fried egg (traditionally sunny side up), a pan-fried Frankfurter or two, a partially sliced and spread into fan-shape gherkin (cornichon may be substituted). Optional: A couple of slices of Semmelknödel, maybe even pan-fried; otherwise white bread.